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Scene & Herd 

Consciously Hip in Hostile Territory

Membership has its privileges: Little Cafe Bisous, nestled in the cute Plaza Midwood storefront that's also home to Nova's Bakery and Sadu, a piercing boutique, is unique as far as Charlotte nightspots go. By day they're a homey coffee shop, filled with comfy (sometimes broken) couches, old books, a widescreen TV (the better to show old John Waters movies on), and loads of ashtrays so you can ash while sipping your double-mocha-frappa-whatchacallit. Saturday night, Bisous underwent its nightly transformation with a set by the two-man band The Houston Brothers, who consist of real-life brothers Matt and Justin. . .Faircloth. Matt plays guitar and plays bass pedals with his bare feet, while brother Justin plays keyboards with his right hand while drumming with his left, manipulating the bass drum with his feet. On hand to open for an absent Helicopter were the band Baleen, playing a spur-of-the-moment semi-acoustic gig which once again proved they're a band to watch. Bisous charges a small fee on the few nights it actually charges admission, usually a nominal three dollars or so. They also sell the elixir of Charlotte's hipsterati, the so-15-minutes-ago Pabst Blue Ribbon, as well as wine -- quite good wine -- at up to six dollars a glass. Bisous' real secret, however, is blending the bar and coffeehouse vibe as they do, not tilting too much in one direction or the other, and offending neither the Diesel-clad coffee-sipper nor the hard-drinking diesel mechanic. Which doesn't mean it's not fun to watch them interact -- although most people keep to themselves since breaking the veneer of cool would be the ultimate sin. Which didn't seem to bother the African American couple who walked in to the standing-room-only gig. After paying his admission, the man was heard to loudly exclaim "hostile territory" to his lady friend, presumably referring to the mostly white crowd. Dude, the only time anyone in this crowd got hostile the whole night was when the credit card machine refused to take some guy's American Express card.

The kids are alright: Charlotte-based Deep Elm Records is one of the big hitters in the independent music scene for what's called (and then inevitably blasted by fanboys) as "emo" music. Punk in spirit, dusted with a little singer-songwriter soul, it's on the rise, as alternative radio picks up on bands loosely related to the term such as Jimmy Eat World, Weezer (courtesy their Pinkerton album), and The Promise Ring. One of Deep Elm's most promising such acts, Red Animal War (with their nifty John F. Kennedy-inside-a-red-star iconic logo) hit Tremont Music Hall Friday night, after a nifty opening set by Tokyo Machine, who seem to get better every time out. Fronted by a lead singer named Justin Wilson (unlike the Cajun chef, this one preferred water to wine), Red Animal War displayed their stock-in-trade: intricate time changes and shouted choruses that damn near seemed moving, even if you had no clue what he was talking about. The satyr-like Wilson didn't say a whole lot that was intelligible the whole night between songs, save for a short diatribe against the fat slob Thomas Junta, the dad who killed another dad at a youth hockey game. The crowd ate it up, however, and while a tad touchy-feely, it sure beats the hell out of the same kids bonding to Staind or something. Which is kind of curious in its own right. Staind, ostensibly a metal band, don't rock near as hard as a band like RAW, yet RAW is considered fey, no doubt, by their attachment to the label affixed to their music, which they didn't ask for in the first place. Madness! Kids shouted along, nobody fought, the bar sold beer (mostly to adults like me who helped balance all the kids in attendance by doing more than their part), and everybody left with a smile on his or her face, especially label head John Szuch, who nodded and bobbed and pressed the flesh all night. Could a style of music with a label this icky save alternative music? *

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